Tag Archives: Alex MacLean

Shoot the Messenger

As its final months drag onward, the Shumlin administration is remaining true to one of its core principles: Shoot the messenger. We have two prime examples of this time-tested strategery today: a top state official slams a respected media outlet, a move that has backfired big-time in the past; and the administration puts a big fat price tag on transparency.

First, Lawrence Miller, Vermont Health Connect czar, has beef with VTDigger.

[Miller] testified Wednesday in the House and challenged the veracity of a VTDigger story that said the state has been unhappy with its current Vermont Health Connect contractor and is negotiating with another company.

… [Miller said] that any frustration he expressed in emails was a normal part of negotiations.

Digger’s earlier story had quoted emails from a state official expressing dissatisfaction with VHC contractor Optum. Which would be noteworthy, since Optum was supposedly the savior of Vermont Health Connect. Miller pooh-poohed the story’s assertion, saying that a certain amount of “friction” is a normal part of the process.

Maybe that’s true, but here’s the problem. This is the same “Lawrence Miller” who was in charge of the Agency for Commerce and Community Development when it was happily attempting to both promote and regulate the ill-fated EB-5 program. He headed ACCD from 2011 to 2014, when he was tasked with cleaning up the Vermont Health Connect mess.

In other words, Miller has been hip-deep in two of the Shumlin administration’s signature disasters. Is it possible he negotiated Shumlin’s original land deal with jerry Dodge?

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Same song, new verse

Here’s a story ripped, as they say, from the headlines.

It’s about a business venture with an ambitious plan to bring new possibilities to an underserved area of Vermont, with large quantities of money obtained through a federal program.

The venture’s head is a prominent, well-connected Vermont businessman. At one point, he hired a top Shumlin administration official to fill a high-profile executive position. The hire raised some concerns about Montpelier’s “revolving door” between public and private sectors. (The hiree was a woman, and is no longer with the company.)

The venture poured lots of outside money into its project. Eventually, people started noticing that the results were far short of what was promised. Inconvenient questions were raised. But through it all, the head of the venture insisted that nothing was wrong. Indeed, he publicly criticized VTDigger for “unfair” reporting.

Okay, I must be talking about Bill Stenger and Jay Peak, right?

Wrong. 

Vermont’s congressional delegation is seeking information from the federal government on the $116 million broadband project that VTel Wireless started in 2010.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., have signed a letter asking whether the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service has been holding VTel accountable.

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You’re unbelievable

Astounding Coincidences in Vermont Politics, EB-5 Scandal Edition…

a. Five days before the Bill Stenger/EB-5 scandal broke wide open, the Shumlin administration requests the deletion of archived emails from five former staffers in Shumlin’s office. One of the five is Alex MacLean, who left state government to take a job with Stenger’s massive development project.

b. On the day before the scandal broke, Senator Pat Leahy — until then a staunch supporter of EB-5 and Stenger — adopted a much more skeptical tone toward EB-5, saying that the program needed a major overhaul if it’s going to stay in business. Leahy insists he knew nothing about the imminent collapse of Stenger’s (alleged) pyramid scheme.

You know, call me a cynic, but I don’t believe any of it.

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The Kingdom EB-5: Spiders in the attic. Lots of ’em.

About 15 years ago, a retired military man appeared in Dover, New Hampshire with an audacious plan: he had a revolutionary design for midsized passenger aircraft, and he was going to start a company — Alliance Aircraft — to build them. He claimed to have solid interest from some of the world’s major air carriers, and he planned to build a factory in some underutilized mill buildings in the middle of town. Good jobs, economic activity, what could be better?

At the time, I was a reporter/anchor for New Hampshire Public Radio, and I did a story about the project. At first everything seemed ideal, but the more I looked into it, the shakier it became. When I talked to experts in aviation and finance, I learned that this guy wasn’t especially well known and that it’s harder than Hell to launch a successful startup in a capital-intensive field like that.

My report raised questions about the project’s viability and public officials’ enthusiastic embrace of same. In the end, Alliance Aircraft fizzled out. No plant, no planes. Mind you, it wasn’t a scam; the head guy was a true believer. There was little or no public investment involved; the project didn’t even get that far.

Which brings us to today in the Northeast Kingdom. If you haven’t read VTDigger’s latest story about Bill Stenger’s EB-5 project, go and do so. It is a must-read.

The story by Anne Galloway focuses on AnC Bio, the biotech facility planned for Newport and funded by EB-5 investment — the federal program that gives green cards to foreign investors who put money into job-creating projects that would otherwise go unfunded. And the story is so full of authentic jaw-dropping “Holy Shit” moments that my mind was drawn back to the halcyon days of Alliance Aircraft.

I’ll recount some of the lowlights here, but please do yourself a favor and read the whole thing. It’s lengthy, but worth your time.

— AnC Bio Vermont is partnered with AnC Bio Korea, which has developed some promising products but has also been in severe financial straits for several years. How severe? Try “its headquarters was auctioned off in 2012” severe.

The Vermont firm is a separate corporation, but it’s entirely dependent on the Korean company for the intellectual property that would be the lifeblood of a Newport plant.

— Stenger’s group said nothing about AnC Bio Korea’s difficulties in its filings with investors or its communications with the state. Galloway: “State officials… weren’t aware of AnC Bio Korea’s problems until in the course of their own research in May 2014, they learned that the Korean headquarters had been sold at auction to satisfy banks and other creditors.”

— After learning of the Korea mess, the state ordered the Stenger group to cease any communication with investors about the Newport plan. This order was ignored. Thanks, Bill.

— Here’s a biggie buried deep in the story. The proposed site of the factory (plus 18 nearby acres) was purchased in 2011 for $3.1 million by a corporation owned by Stenger’s partner Ariel Quiros. Part of the land was sold to the EB-5 consortium, little more than a year later, for $6 million. That’s a tidy profit for Mr. Q. He’d profit even more if the plant is built and his 18 acres are adjacent to a booming factory.

— AnC Bio has yet to seek or receive FDA approval for any of its products, usually a lengthy process. Stenger: “…the FDA approval of products and services will in part be facilitated by the completion of the building.”

Cart before the horse, Bill?

I could go on, but you can read it all at VTDigger. Suffice it to say that this reeks eight ways from Sunday. And beyond the potential implications for the company, its investors, and the city of Newport, this could blow up big-time in Governor Shumlin’s face. He’s been Head Cheerleader for the Stenger projects, frequently traveling overseas to help Stenger and Quiros court investors. His administration set up a conveniently Stenger-friendly regulatory mechanism.

Not to mention that Shumlin’s former right hand, Alex MacLean, was working with the Stenger group through much of this troubled time. If she wasn’t pipelining information back to the administration about all this, she certainly wasn’t doing her political mentor any favors.

If the Newport project implodes or suffers any of several extremely realistic setbacks, it will be another black eye for Peter Shumlin’s tattered reputation for good management. A largely self-inflicted black eye, at that; he didn’t have to identify himself so closely with this project. But he got stars in his eyes, and he may well pay a heavy price.